The World Cup winner is back in his homeland after a testing few weeks amid renewed links with Barcelona and Luis Suarez making overtures
It’s been less than two months since Paul Pogba led France to their second World Cup title and this week the midfielder returned to the tranquil surroundings of Clairefontaine.
France draw Germany in their first-ever UEFA Nations League match on Thursday with 22 of Didier Deschamps’ title-winning 23 reporting for duty.
The perception of Pogba in France at the moment could scarcely be any different to the one in England, where he has become a lightning rod for Manchester United’s ills. His performance – and penalty miss – last weekend against Burnley was ridiculed even though United ended up winning the game comfortably.
That criticism is added to the pile that has plagued Pogba since returning from the World Cup. Displays against Brighton and Tottenham were heavily scrutinised, and totally at odds with the praise Pogba was winning during the summer.
“Paul Pogba plays for himself, it’s all about how cool he looks, showing us how clever he is,” Graeme Souness wrote in The Sunday Times. “I reckon Pogba’s only in the team to maintain his transfer value until United can sell him, because he doesn’t merit his place for any other reason.”
It comes on the back of a tough few weeks for Pogba, whose struggles under United manager Jose Mourinho have been well documented.
Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola has come into conflict with United great Paul Scholes over his player’s status in the United squad and there is a perception that fan sentiment has turned towards Mourinho in any battle involving the two.
So, this week’s international break might well have come at the right time for the 25-year-old, who will have time to recharge and be given a reminder of his capabilities.
France team-mate and good friend Antoine Griezmann revealed to the press this week that he was surprised by the level to which Pogba adopted that leadership role in Russia during the World Cup.
“Paul really took it up a notch in the locker room,” Griezmann told L’Equipe. “He had the right words which pushed us. Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane and Blaise Matuidi, we know they were leaders, but Pogba surprised us more and made us feel good.”
It was the tournament in which Pogba became a man and demonstrated – as if it needed to be said – that he was capable of running a midfield in a top-quality team and making positive contributions.